Have you ever wondered what a conversation between snacks in a vending machine might sound like?
Well, Jacob Ranke, a Braden River High School sophomore, and his brother, Logan Ranke, who is a senior, have put a lot of thought into it.
Maybe a bag of Lays potato chips is frustrated it has been in the vending machine for three weeks and takes its out on a Twix candy bar. Maybe a bag of peanuts won’t keep its comments to itself.
The Rankes took those ideas and put it into a play titled “Vending Machine Envy.”
Their play was named a winner in the middle and high school category of the Florida Studio Theatre’s Write a Play program.
Florida Studio Theatre looks at thousands of plays from students in kindergarten through 12th grade and chooses plays with “an imaginative plot and character(s), a strong sense of rhythm in the dialogue, innate wisdom and diverse themes” as its winners.
Braden River sophomore Roman Blankenship’s play “Worst Day Ever?” received an honorable mention.
Besides the students’ recognition, Ricardo Robinson-Shinall, the theater director at Braden River High, was named Florida Studio Theatre’s Write a Play Educator of the Year.
Robinson-Shinall said the award is an honor.
“You don’t get into teaching for awards,” he said. “You get into teaching because you love kids. To be recognized for something that I didn’t even think I was that good at, but something I love to do, feels great.”
Robinson-Shinall, Logan and Jacob Ranke and Blankenship will attend the Florida Studio Theatre’s Young Playwrights Festival May 14 where Robinson-Shinall will be honored and all the student plays will be performed by Florida Studio Theatre performers.
“I’m looking forward to seeing and hearing some of the other plays,” Robinson-Shinall said.
Robinson-Shinall said the Educator of the Year award provides validation that 12 years of dedicating his life to teaching artforms has made a difference.
Growing up, he didn’t set out to be a theater teacher. Although he had a passion for theater, he didn’t take theater in high school and only became involved in community theater when he went to college and started choreographing and directing shows. After college, he decided to put theater to the side so he could pursue teaching color guard. Eventually, he took over Braden River’s theater program.
“Winning this award feels validating that I do understand the art form. All the respect I have for it is being paid back,” Robinson-Shinall said.
Robinson-Shinall discovered the Florida Studio Theatre’s Write a Play program in 2018 and has since made it part of his curriculum each year.
The Write a Play program gives his students an opportunity to unleash their creativity as there are few restrictions such as length, number of characters and format.
“As we go through schooling, and especially with testing and things we do with the kids, we tend to force out a lot of that creativity so they can fit into a box,” Robinson-Shinall said. “It’s fun to see what some of them come up with because you learn a lot about the kids’ personalities through the way they write and the stories they create.”
The Ranke brothers let their imaginations run wild with their comedic play.
“(The snacks) get jealous over one snack getting picked over the other because to them, they see it as this glorious thing to be picked,” Logan Ranke said. “It reminded me of the claw from ‘Toy Story’ a little bit where the aliens all want to be picked.”
The process of writing “Vending Machine Envy” wasn’t easy. They faced writers’ block trying to brainstorm ideas, so they decided to reach out to their older brother, Hayden Ranke, and somehow came upon the topic of vending machines.
Then came the challenge of writing something that was funny to a large audience. They continually read what they had to classmates and friends to see if their jokes would land well.
When a few of their classmates performed their play in front of the class and heard their classmates laughing at various parts of the play, they knew they accomplished their comedic goals.
“We found the best way to do it was we had a bunch of different things that were funny to different people,” Logan Ranke said. “We had a bunch of smaller jokes that could fly under the radar if someone was listening for them or we had much more in your face this is supposed to be a joke kind of thing. Everyone’s humor is so different, so finding that happy medium was a lot of trial and error.”
Logan Ranke’s favorite part of his play is when a Haribo Gummy Bear steps up to try to settle an argument but there’s one problem — the gummy bear only speaks German. Logan Ranke used the fact that Haribo was founded in Germany as comedic relief in the play.
While the Rankes’ play took a comedic tone, Blankenship’s play was on the more serious side.
He wrote about a boy who swapped bodies with his sister. The boy starts out thinking his life isn’t the best while his sister has a perfect life. The body swap teaches him his sister doesn’t have it that easy.
Blankenship asked his sister, Makayla Blankenship, to give him all the cat calls she had heard from boys and included them in his play.
The play ended with the brother in the play punching a boy who was saying awful things to the character’s sister.
“It resonated with me because I feel like if I was in the shoes of that person, I would have done the same thing,” Blankenship said. “It made me so mad to hear that people say those things. I felt it’s a good thing for people to know about and realize this is something people do and it’s not right. I wanted to try to bring at least a little awareness to that stuff.”
Blankenship was ecstatic to find out his play received an honorable mention for the Write a Play program.
“I’m always going to feel like I could have done better,” he said. ‘There’s always going to be that thought in the back of my head, but knowing that others thought it was that good definitely made me feel better about it.”